With the beginning of the school term fast approaching, many parents may be considering schooling options for their children. In some cases, they may be considering a fee-paying school.
When you are a separated parent, it may not be as straightforward as jointly deciding on a school with the other parent and you may need to consider how those fees will be funded.
If you are a parent of a child who is already attending a fee-paying school or you think it could be an option you might consider in the future, it is important to address the issue early on and factor those expenses into your financial settlement.
Here are some tips!
*Remember, you need the consent of everyone who holds Parental Responsibility to change a school and if you cannot agree, the parent who wishes to change the child’s school will need to apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order.
If your child is already attending a fee-paying school and they are paid through a joint account, this is something that will need to be taken into account at the outset and you may need to agree on how those payments will be made in the interim as you could be waiting a while for a Court Order.
Another way to resolve the issue of school fees is through Arbitration, which can be a much more time and cost-effective way forward than Court proceedings.
If your child has not started school or you wish to change their school to a fee-paying one, it is important to carry out some research on those schools you think may be an option for your child. For example, ask for an estimate of their fees over the next few years, find out how they are paid and check to see if there are any scholarships that could assist.
Whilst school fees may appear to be a financial consideration, it also has a significant impact on your child’s welfare and education. As such, the sooner the matter is addressed, the better.
The Court’s stance
The Court has the power to Order one or both parents to pay school fees.
In some circumstances, when it comes to parents that are separated and unmarried, the Court may consider those factors under Schedule 1 of the Children Act which include the financial circumstances of both parents and the education your child is used to.
If there is an Order which sets out how the school fees are paid, it is important to have a clear definition of what those fees cover. For example, the cost of uniforms or school trips may not be included as part of those ‘fees’ in the Order and could lead to uncertainty in the future.
The Child Maintenance Service does not have the power to Order or assess whether a parent is liable to pay school fees. However, a Judge can Order that school fees should be paid in addition to any child support already in place, if required.
It is important to note that Child Maintenance will always take priority over school fees, meaning that if the paying party cannot afford both, it is the maintenance that will come first.
If you wish to obtain further advice on how best to reach an agreement on school fees or how to apply for an Order from the Court, our Solicitors are here to provide you with specialist legal advice.
Author: Esther Ifan